By Derek Ingui
One of the problems, at least in my humble opinion, with the health and fitness industry is that too many people are taught, or at least lead to think, in terms of absolutes. An eye grabbing magazine headline may read something like this:
“Blueberries are loaded with Cancer fighting antioxidants!”
This is all well and dandy, and may even be right on the money, but this statement somehow contorts itself in the mind of the casual reader that:
- A) If I eat a ton of blueberries I am drastically reducing my chances of getting cancer, or
- B) If I don’t eat a ton of blueberries, my chances of getting cancer are that much higher!
Now don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against blueberries. I eat my far share and would probably make it into the Blueberry Hall of Fame, if there were such a thing, but it’s this absolutist thinking that causes some of the diet and health paranoia that dominates media outlets and the minds of a large portion of the general population today.
It’s time we start thinking about health and fitness in a much broader, whole, and dare I say, “holistic,” sense.
A friend of mine, who’s a very smart and well rounded fitness professional, taught me to think of health, fitness, and well being in the simple terms of:
INPUT (factors) =OUTPUT (desired results/goals/outcome)
In other words, what factors (input) can most efficiently and effectively be manipulated to achieve one’s desired results (output) in the shortest, safest, and easiest manner possible?
We hear fitness “professionals” argue about one thing after the other. Over the years you’ve probably heard statements similar to these:
- “Everyone should be performing the dead lift.”
- “Yoga is bad for your back because it can compromise the joints of your lumbar spine.”
- “Yoga is the most beneficial form of exercise because it lengthens your muscles.”
- “You should perform three to four 30 minute sessions of moderate cardio work a week.”
- “You don’t need any cardio work as long as your strength sessions are intense and fast enough.”
- “Only eat carbs post workout.”
- “Fast in the morning, and feast in the evening.”
As you can tell, many times one absolutist statement directly contradicts another. Who’s right? Who’s wrong? And what’s right? And what’s wrong?
The truth is that there are hardly any absolutes. So depending on the statement and circumstances surrounding the statement these can be completely right, completely wrong, or somewhere in between.
There’s so much input (so many different factors) that can potentially play a role in the output, that it’s awfully hard to ever make a blanket statement.
Input (factors) that can affect a desired output (results) may include (but is definitely not limited to):
- A) Medical conditions.
- B) Genetics.
- C) Work stressors.
- D) Relationship stressors.
- E) Sunlight.
- F) Sleep patterns.
- G) Recreational drug use.
- H) Social influences.
- I) Environmental upbringing.
- J) Time availability.
- K) Family commitments.
- L) Food preparation knowledge.
- M) Expertise of strength coaches in your area.
The list is endless, and these all could, in some shape or form, affect the output (depending on the results looking to be achieved).
For example, and in sticking with our blueberry statement, if you’re eating blueberries with the “goal,” or more likely the “belief,” that they will reduce your chances of cancer, but you’re stressed from work, finances, and a relationship; you get 5 hours of sleep a night, and are slightly genetically predisposed for cancer, then blueberries may well be doing nothing to help lower your chances of acquiring this horrible disease.
On the flip side, you may be able to change the output (chances of being healthy and reducing the likelihood of acquiring cancer) by not eating any blueberries at all, but by picking up a hobby that you enjoy and that makes you happy, working on your problematic relationship, and spending a little more time “reorganizing” your schedule to get some much deserved sleep. The latter may provide a better strategy for “cancer prevention” than simply “eating a handful of blueberries a day.”
And yes, there is the chance that the blueberries may be your best bet, but my goal isn’t to try and discover what the most effective strategy for cancer prevention is. My goal is to show you that there are far more factors that can affect your output than all of these blanket absolutist statements we see and hear all the time in the health and fitness world.
So what are the inputs to reach MY outputs?
Again, I can’t sit here and tell you exactly what needs to be done. You’re an individual, and while biologically you may be close to everyone else, you’re not genetically identical. Also keep in mind that there are hundreds of other non biological factors that can factor into the equation.
Much to the chagrin of Matt Stone, because I know he hates this stuff, I will attempt to make some basic generalizations (not absolutes!):
An average adults’ output (goals) usually include:
- 1) Look good. Look hot. Look sexy. Look good naked. (any way you want to term this). Be “toned.” This usually involves adding a little muscle mass and taking away a little body fat.
- 2) Feel good. Have energy. Be happy.
- 3) Be healthy. Not be plagued by constant colds. Not be inflicted by serious disease/illness. Not be inflicted by injury or pain in your day to day living.
- 4) Live a long time.
That, in a nut shell, is about it.
And oh, by the way, people want to achieve all of the above while not affecting their daily routines, taking away from their “fun,” or generally interfering with their life in any way, shape, or form.
Wow! Where to start? Four simple goals, piece of cake, right? Wellllll……a lot goes into them. Meaning, a lot of factors, individually, and how they interact as a unit, can affect these goals.
A lot of preventative measure in there too. “Not become inflicted by serious illness.”?!?! That’s a hard one to address! Can it even be measured appropriately?!
See what I mean? Not an easy task.
But when people do seek general, again GENERAL, not absolute, inputs to try and achieve these outputs, I usually tell them:
- Do something you find joy in doing, and get excited to do. A hated job, commute, or forced task can cause a lot of chronic emotional stress. I’m not a scientist, and I’m not going to back this up with a 1,000 research papers, but this probably isn’t healthy. And even if it doesn’t matter, don’t you want to be happy?!
- Have a lot of sex. Better yet, have a lot of sex with someone you love. I’ve read it’s even healthier. Health aside though, if you’re a typical human being, sex probably takes care of some of input #1.
- Don’t go on diets. Do you restrict your breathing? Do you restrict your pooping? Your sweating (well we try)? Why would you want to restrict your biological need to eat when hungry and stop when full?
- Don’t become OCD about health and food. This usually will interfere with your social life, at least somewhat, and friends are important.
- Find a form of movement(s) that you truly enjoy. Moving is healthy, and more people should do more of it. But forcing yourself to lift weights or run on the treadmill for “health” is absurd.
- Take sleep seriously, but not too seriously. Do you restrict your breathing? Your pooping? Oh no, not this spiel again! Sleep is a biological need. Try and listen to it.
- Learn to cook with real food. You don’t need to be the best cook, and remember input #4, but Twinkies and soda pop will only go so far. Veggies are good, and when you’re body is lacking a certain vitamin or nutrient hopefully you’ll crave the food that can provide it. Hello salad, stir fry over rice, potatoes, coconut oil, and eggs!
- Acknowledge, at least to yourself, that life does not spontaneous become infinitely better with six pack abs, the perfect waist to butt ration, or arms to die for. These things probably won’t bring you any more friends, money, social status, or happiness.
- I almost left this last one off because this is where people tend to get paranoia and develop extremes, but…If you have done all of the above, and still want to achieve better “results” in terms of the outputs listed above, find a method, or person, that can help you achieve this with the least invasive and most minimally lifestyle altering changes necessary to do so. For example, an effective 3X30 minutes a week strength routine to add muscle, or a simple “wind down” routine at the end of the night that can be followed with consistency (because it’s so simple and easy) that will add an extra hour of sleep to your schedule, etc.
That’s it! Let’s do away with absolutes. They may or may not apply to you, and are probably taken out of context anyways. There are just too many factors to take into account when determining your health, fitness, and well being to have absolutes. We are a living, breathing, adapting biological system. To think in terms of absolutes and blanket statements is fairly ignorant and stupid. The factors that contribute to our “inputs” are many, some are in our control, but many are not, and the “outputs” among different groups of peoples, demographics, age, gender, and environmental upbringing reflect this.